Can exercise and diet mitigate PFAS-related weight gain?

Chemicals known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) are found in a wide array of everyday products, from nonstick cookware to beauty products. The vast majority of Americans have detectable levels of PFASs in their blood and research has shown that higher plasma levels of these substances are associated with increases in weight gain and body size. But a new study conducted by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School, and others shows that exercise and diet modifications can help mitigate these effects.

The study, published on August 31, 2018, in JAMA Network Open, examined data from a cohort of 957 participants from the Diabetes Prevention Program and Outcomes Study. Some participants were randomized to an exercise and diet intervention while others were randomized to a placebo, which consisted of being given standard information on diet and exercise.

The results showed that each time PFAS concentration doubled in the placebo group, there was an associated 1.8 kilogram weight gain from enrollment to nine years of follow-up. Yet the researchers found no associated weight gain in the group initially assigned to diet and exercise relative to PFAS concentration.

The study also found that each doubling of PFASs was associated with a 1.03 centimeter increase in hip girth in the placebo group. Again, the group assigned to diet and exercise did not experience increases in hip girth relative to PFASs concentrations.

“Exercise and diet confer multiple health benefits; our results suggest that another added benefit is fighting the obesogenic action of environmental contaminants such as PFASs,” said Andres Cardenas, co-author of the study and a research fellow in the Department of Population Medicine at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute.

Harvard Chan School authors included Emily Oken, Diane Gold, and Russ Hauser.

Read the JAMA Network study: Association of Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances With Adiposity

Learn more

PFASs, chemicals commonly found in environment, may interfere with body weight regulation (Harvard Chan School press release)

Risks of PFASs known decades before research revealed, says expert (Harvard Chan School news)